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Anna Catharine Grace Memorial Pipe Organ

The Anna Catharine Grace Memorial Pipe Organ, Noack Organ Company Op. 164, 2021. Click to enlarge photo.

Please plan to attend the inaugural season of the DOWNTOWN CONCERT SERIES at the Cathedral of Saint Paul! In it, we bring some of the world’s greatest concert organists to your doorstep, as well as the finest in choral, vocal, and instrumental music—for the glorification of God and to bring our community in downtown Birmingham together to appreciate the arts.

Also debuting in October are FIRST SUNDAY ORGAN TOURS. After every 1st Sunday 11AM Mass (beginning on Sunday, October 2), a brief demonstration and tour of the Anna Catharine Grace Memorial Pipe Organ will be given by the Director of Music. All are welcome, and no reservation is needed; please be sure that any small children are properly accompanied. Please contact the Director of Music with any questions.

The Dedicatory Recital for the Anna Catharine Grace Memorial Pipe Organ, Noack Organ Company Opus 164, took place on Sunday, January 9, 2022, at 4:00pm. Internationally-renowned concert organist Nathan Laube played a varied program designed to show off all 60 stops of the instrument. The program and program notes are available for download; a professional recording will be available soon.

In the early 1990s, problems surfaced with the former Cathedral pipe organ, which could not be remedied under warranty due to the bankruptcy and closing of the Möller Organ Company just a few years after the installation. The largest pipes in the facade were replaced in the late 1990s by Fr. Patrick Cullen and the late Calvert Shenk. A short time later, during the tenure of Fr. Richard Donohoe as Rector, and under the leadership of Stephan Calvert (the Cathedral’s director of music) an Organ Fund was begun in anticipation of rebuilding the Möller instrument. A capital campaign was planned for 2013, only to be delayed by the Cathedral’s exterior renovation, a project discovered to be of greater urgency and obviously greater scope.

After the renovation’s completion in 2015, Fr. Kevin Bazzel, Rector at the time, asked that the Cathedral organ be the next item addressed, due to its ever-greater disrepair (even failing during a Christmas Eve Mass). Proposals for a rebuild were solicited from some of the country’s best organ builders working in the “American Classic” style of the Möller, and a study trip of their representative work was made. While all builders and proposals were thorough and excellent, each questioned whether a rebuild would fully address the deficiencies of the Möller (outlined on its page here).

Around this time, we observed the passing of long-time parishioner Anna Catharine Grace, long known for her generosity toward liturgical and musical endeavors in the Diocese of Birmingham (such as the eponymous Grace Fund for Music and Liturgy, and the underwriting of the liturgical books of St. Bernard Abbey in Cullman, not to mention the donation of pipe organs and other instruments to parishes). Mrs. Grace was no less generous with our Cathedral parish, leaving her estate to secure the future of the Cathedral sacred music program, especially through the funding of the organ. In consultation with Fr. Bryan Jerabek, Rector, and the Cathedral finance council, proposals were solicited for a new instrument of eclectic design and mechanical (or “tracker”) action. After years of consultation with architects, organbuilders, organists around the world, and with the blessing of Bishop Robert J. Baker, in 2019 the Cathedral signed a contract for Opus 164 of the Noack Organ Company, a three-manual instrument of 75 ranks of pipes, to be named the Anna Catharine Grace Memorial Pipe Organ.

This organ re-integrates a number of pipes from the previous Möller instrument, incorporating them into an eclectic* instrument of French Classical and Symphonic influences well-suited to the Cathedral’s fine acoustic and the strengths of our music apostolate. It is an instrument equally at home in the liturgy and in concert; one that preserves (and enriches) many of the heroic aspects of the Möller instrument while substantially increasing quieter options for accompaniment of singers and choir. The Noack organ’s installation began in the Spring of 2021 and was completed before Christmas 2021. Bishop Steven J. Raica, Bishop of the Diocese of Birmingham in Alabama (by happy coincidence, an organist himself), blessed the new instrument at a solemn Mass for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary on December 8, 2021. Cathedral Choir presented Maurice Duruflé’s Messe cum jubilo along with other pieces; the voluntary was Alexandre Guilmant’s “Finale” from the First Sonata for Organ.

Just as the Cathedral church is a church for all people, where we hope all will come to adore Our Lord Jesus Christ, we hope that all will feel welcome to visit this beautiful instrument. We have been delighted to receive many visitors already to our pipe organ. Please contact the Director of Music and Organist, Bruce E. Ludwick, Jr., at Ludwick@stpaulsbhm.org or (205) 251-1279, for information.

(*In organ building parlance, “eclectic” is a positive term meaning that an instrument is able to authoritatively play organ music of all or most stylistic periods effectively. This is a key need at the Cathedral, as organ and choral music from many national schools is performed on any given week. At the same time, the organ’s French roots will be unique in the Southeast and particularly well-suited to the Cathedral’s “old world” acoustics.)